Taking A Chance On Dance Led To A New Career

Lisa Deaderick The San Diego Union-Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Faith Jensen-Ismay is one of the founders of the Mojalet Dance Collective, a nonprofit dance company in San Diego. She took some time to talk about the journey of career in dance and her work within the creative community.


Faith Jensen-Ismay wasn't exactly looking for dance, but it seemed to be looking for her.

In high school, she was forced to take a dance class for a physical education credit. It still wasn't something she'd seriously considered pursuing as a career until her husband later suggested she quit her retail job and focus on training for a year to see what might happen.

"I did exactly that. I transferred to SDSU (San Diego State University) and within a year, Jean Isaacs asked me to demonstrate her classes after her knee surgery. Shortly after that, she invited me to be in her new work, 'Tabula Rasa,'" she says. "That led to a long working relationship with (numerous dancers and choreographers), with opportunities to teach SDSU, UC San Diego, Palomar and San Diego City colleges."

Today, Jensen-Ismay, 54, is one of the founders of the Mojalet Dance Collective, a nonprofit dance company. She lives in Poway with her husband, Joe, and they have four daughters. She's also Mojalet's artistic director and continues to teach at Mesa College and Arts for Learning. She took some time to talk about her dance career and her work with Mojalet.

Q: How were you introduced to dance?

A: In all honesty, I was forced to take a class in high school as PE credit. It was months after my father fell at work and died, then a boy I was dating was killed in a car crash. Somehow, dance became a coping mechanism and a way for me to express myself. At first, I was uncomfortable, especially looking at myself in a mirror, but the teacher was understanding and worked with me.

Q: Tell us about Mojalet Dance Collective.

A: Mojalet is a professional and community-based organization founded in 1991 by myself, Mary Neuru and Linda Zamborano. We wanted to create a platform to present work and create opportunities for post-college dancers.

I was pregnant with my first child and thought it may be the avenue for me as a dance artist raising a family, not knowing how, or if, I would be able to continue with the company I was dancing for. Linda created the name Mojalet by combing letters from dance genres: m-o from modern, j-a from jazz, and l-e-t from ballet. I started as a jazz dancer and trained for years in ballet, but found my heart was moved with modern dance, so the name made sense and gave us the freedom to create work that interested us artistically and combined genres, rather than staying in a box that's confined to a specific style of dance.

Q: Why did you want to be part of a dance company in this capacity?

A: Initially, as a college instructor, we found that there weren't very many opportunities for dancers to work in San Diego after graduation. Only a couple of modern companies offered contracts, and I realized I was lucky to have a job as a dancer in San Diego. Since I had been blessed with wonderful opportunities, I was inspired to create possibilities for other dancers and choreographers. Establishing relationships with others, inspiring them to be challenged physically and mentally, is part of what drives me.

What I love about Poway ... We bought our house in Poway, "the city in the country," because we wanted to raise our family in a rural area, be somewhat close to the city and beach, and have a place in the center of the county to make my work travels easier. Mojalet's home theater in Rancho Bernardo is close to home and provides a charming environment for performances.

Q: What makes you want to continue doing this work?

A: People. People make me want to continue this work. Watching others develop relationships and a sense of community, at the same time that they are developing their artistic expression, makes me want to continue the work. I am surrounded by an amazing family, board of directors, company dancers, adult students, and dance families who appreciate Mojalet's philosophy, and patrons who support us by attending events and contributing financially. Also, the fact that the dancers I work with are committed, talented and have helped me continue to grow as an artist has been a gift.

Q: What inspires you in your choreography?

A: Many things inspire me: music, visual designs in space, the vulnerability of human nature, making people smile, storytelling, and collaborating with others. In a great project, all those elements come together. For people that have seen my work and have followed Mojalet in depth, they find it hard to describe a specific style or topic in choreography because the blend is unique. Perhaps because I have such a diverse life as an artist, teacher, mother, wife, and Christian who enjoys travel and diversity in theater, my inspiration varies; however, creating work with an ensemble has always been a strong thread.

Q: What has your work taught you about yourself?

A: I want to be an artist who lives the messages I create dances about. I like to create strong work, but at the end of my life, I would rather be remembered for how I worked with people: work hard, play hard, love, treat people with respect, and make time for others. I also have a motto, "Once you think you've arrived, you're on your way down." That keeps me striving to grow.

Q: What is the best advice you've ever received?

A: Trust, and have faith that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: For people who know my normal schedule, they are surprised that on vacation or camping, I don't want to have appointments or plan anything, especially meals.

Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: A Friday evening walk to the Brigantine for fish tacos and sangria; a Saturday morning hike, then the beach, and an evening at the zoo; and on Sunday morning, church and then lunch in the garden.

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